Part of a three-picture deal with Fox, director John Huston found John Lee Mahin's adaptation of Charles Shaw's novel had solid dramatic potential. Laundered of 'dirty' sexual activities, Huston and Mahin spent several weeks formalizing a final script, and ultimately shot the film on the British isle of Tobago, as part of a British-American co-production.
Though Marlon Brando was the director's first choice - twice he declined the co-starring role - Huston's selection of Robert Mitchum, then under contract to 20th Century Fox, was a better decision. Rougher around the edges, yet possessing a more natural acting style, Mitchum plays the loyal Marine whose Marine Corps is his family, yet questions his fidelity when he discovers Kerr is a mere month away from taking her final novitiate vows.
To protect their production from a still-influential Catholic Legion of Decency, the studio engaged a Production Code censor to monitor filming, although Huston's approach to the story maintained high sexual tension without any vulgarities. "Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison" is essentially a two-character piece, and remains one of Huston's best films. Though Mahin, Huston, and Kerr each received Oscar Nominations for their respective writing and acting work, the film's also a high point in Mitchum's career, showing he could do more than archetypal tough guys.
20th Century Fox's transfer is made from a decent print. The colours are stable, and while a few wide shots are a bit soft and harsh contrasts affect a few day shots, the anamorphic transfer is a major improvement over the panned and scanned TV and VHS copies, long in circulation. On the audio side, the disc comes with mono and stereo English soundtracks; though an enhanced pseudo-stereo track, the latter is quite functional, and lacks a persistent drainpipe quality that affects the English mono mix. (Curiously the French mono track, erroneously listed as stereo on the DVD menu, lacks the flaws present in the English mono mix.)
To place the film in its historical context, the DVD contains several vintage Movietone newsreels: "Tarawa: The Marine's Toughest Battle" is a beat up but informative piece on the U.S. Navy's decisive battle against the Japanese at one of the Gilbert Islands, with plenty of stock sound effects; "King-Nimitz" is an ultra-short snapshot of the seizure of the island of Saipan; and "Japs Raid Saipan" is another brief short, showing a scorched airstrip after a Japanese attack.
The last Movietone short covers the "Photoplay Movie Awards," with producer Jerry Wald, director Leo McCarey, actress Deborah Kerr, and star Rock Hudson (assisted by "hep motion picture columnist" Hedda Hopper) holding their small trophies… plus a tanned producer Robert Evans, winner, too, for his role in "The Sun Also Rises."
Fans of Huston's work might want to seek out Lawrence Grobel's lively 1989 family biography, "The Hustons," which contains a good spread on the film's physically demanding production (and a few blue anecdotes that a polite Huston omitted from his brisk autobiography).
© 2003 Mark R. Hasan